While reading through some of the transcripts of the interviews used for PBS’ “The Mormons“, some of Elder Holland’s comments caught my eye. Dave over at DMI also posted about this interview, although he didn’t necessarily pursue the issue I would like to raise here.
First let me refer to two parts of the interview:
[You say] there are stark choices in beliefs about the origins of the book. Explain why there’s no middle way.
… If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That’s what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody’s liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. …
I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: “This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.
… There are some things we can’t give away. There are some foundational stones. If you don’t have those, you don’t have anything. So the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, those are pretty basic things. …”
What about people who question the history of the Book of Mormon?
There are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and they are firmly in this church — firmly, in their mind, in this church — and the church isn’t going to take action against that. [The church] probably will be genuinely disappointed, but there isn’t going to be action against that, not until it starts to be advocacy: “Not only do I disbelieve in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I want you to disbelieve.” At that point, we’re going to have a conversation. A little of that is more tolerated than I think a lot of people think it should be. But I think we want to be tolerant any way we can. … “Patient” maybe is a better word than “tolerant.” We want to be patient and charitable to the extent that we can, but there is a degree beyond which we can’t go. …
This also relates to our recent discussion here at FPR on the role of the scholar in the church. In that post I asserted that the dividing line between the prophet and the scholar was not revelation as the role of the prophet versus interpretation as the role of the scholar; but the control of bodies. The church is open to the scholar in as much as his/her work does not compete for power over the individual (usually understood as doing things like coming to church, paying tithing, and generally speaking–“keeping the commandments”).
The questions to ask, I believe, are: Can “good” scholarship (as defined by the community of scholars) come from this limited sphere? In Elder Holland’s terms, is there such a thing as “non-advocating” scholarship? Or does all scholarship at least implicitly “advocate”?
In particular, without looking too much to the past (because Elder Holland’s comments may or may not represent past policy), do these comments create more room for “faithful dissent”? Does this mean that there is more space for a multitude of “faithful” intellectual positions? “Faithful”, here meaning at least no disciplinary action taken against such individuals, or perhaps them even being able to hold recommends. Is it possible to “dissent” from the common voice and still be a member of the church in good-standing?